Tar Heel Tattler - May 2007

Triad region doesn't need another break
- Arthur O. Murray

Winston-Salem's population is growing. So is Greensboro's. Yet the Triad has slipped in national rankings, and economic-development officials there worry that it might hamper recruiting. What's worse is that not all the regions that have leapfrogged the Triad are growing more quickly. Many simply avoided a nasty dissection by bureaucrats.

In 2003, the federal Office of Management and Budget changed the way it classifies its metropoli-tan statistical areas. Before that, the Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point MSA, with about 1.3 million residents, ranked 36th in the nation. That was lower than Charlotte but higher than Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, which ranked 41st.

OMB's reclassifications have broken the Triad into three MSAs - Greensboro-High Point, Winston-Salem and Burlington - and two micropolitan statistical areas - Mount Airy and Lexington-Thomasville. The result: None of the Triad metros make much of a blip on the national screen.

Greensboro-High Point - with more than 685,000 residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released in April - now ranks as the nation's 73rd-largest MSA, behind not only Charlotte, which is 36th, but also the new Raleigh-Cary metro. Winston-Salem fares even worse. Though the MSA population has grown by about 37,000 since 2000 to nearly 457,000, it ranked 105th, just behind Durham. The former Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point MSA has more than 1.5 million residents, which would have ranked 37th.

Don Kirkman is CEO of the Piedmont Triad Regional Partnership, a nonprofit that markets a 12-county region that includes Greensboro. He says many rankings - by the Census Bureau and others - will shortchange the Triad. "In a global economy, size matters. The reality is that the Piedmont Triad is an interdependent region that is much larger than any of the individual MSAs."

It could make recruiting more difficult because site-selection consultants often use size as a way to narrow their list of potential locations. "The numbers have a significant influence on investment decisions of a lot of companies in a range of industries," Kirkman says. "This affects not only the Piedmont Triad but any region that doesn't have a dominant city."

Raleigh didn't drop as far in the rankings as Greensboro, but economic developers there are dealing with a different kind of frustration. It once was comfort-ably inside the top-50 cutoff that site-selection experts often use. It now ranks 51st.